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 Alexander Butlerov

Born:   September 3, 1828
Deceased:   August 5, 1886

creator of theory of chemical structure


Alexander Mikhailovich Butlerov, Russian chemist, creator of theory of chemical structure and founder of world famous school of organic chemists, is born on September 3, 1828, in the town of Chistopol near Kazan. His father, a retired officer, owns some land. His mother died, when Alexander is young, and his father sends him to one of Kazan’s private schools. When Alexander Mikhailovich gets 16, he enters the department of physics and mathematics of Kazan University, which at that time is the centre of natural sciences in Russia. First Butlerov is keen on botany and zoology, and then becomes interested in chemistry, deciding to devote his whole life to this science.

In 1849 Alexander Mikhailovich Butlerov graduates form the university, however, his professor of chemistry recommends him to stay at his department. In 1851 Butlerov defends his Master thesis, and in 1854 Moscow University listens to his Doctor thesis. The same year Butlerov becomes extraordinary professor in chemistry of Kazan University, and three years later he’s appointed ordinary professor.

In 1857-1858 Alexander Mikhailovich travels abroad and makes friends with many eminent European chemists. The chemist participates in meeting of Paris Chemical Society, which opened recently. Here, in Paris, Butlerov starts his first experiments, which become the basis of his theory of chemical structure. Key aspects of his theory the scientists reports during the Congress of German naturalists and medics in September 1862 – his report is called “On chemical structure of the matter”. In1868 Dmitry Mendeleev recommends Alexander Mikhailovich for professorship in Saint Petersburg University, where the chemists works for the rest of this life. In 1874 Butlerov is elected academician of Saint Petersburg Academy of Science.


There were several attempts to create a theory of chemical structure for organic compounds before Butlerov. Numerous works of famous scientists, working in organic chemistry, are dedicated to this problem. Butlerov concludes that structural formulas should not be just an abstract image of a molecule – they should reflect real structure of molecules. Alexander Mikhailovich emphasizes that every molecule has its own specific structure and is unable to combine several structures. Thus, Alexander Mikhailovich Butlerov is the first chemist to suggest that studying chemical properties of substances may lead to finding their chemical structure and vice versa. Butlerov proposes methods for determining chemical structure and formulates rules for performing research. Alexander Mikhailovich considers organic synthesis under “moderate” conditions (medium temperatures, under which radicals keep their structure undisturbed) to be a powerful tool for determining and demonstrating molecular structure. The theory helps the genius to predict existence of many organic substances. For example, Alexander Mikhailovich synthesizes one of four butyl alcohols, predicted by his theory – the scientist deciphers its structures and gives evidence the compound has isomers. According to isomerism rules, which resulted from Butlerov’s theory of chemical structure, chemists are able to predict existence of four valeric acids, three of which are synthesized by foreign chemists in 1871 and the fourth appears in Butlerov’s laboratory in 1872.

The theory of chemical structure allows Butlerov to start thorough studies of polymerization, which are continued by his followers and result in discovery of industrial technique for synthetic rubber production. Butlerov’s numerous syntheses – he gets ethanol from ethylene, diisobutylene, tertiary alcohols and etc – start industries.

Butlerov’s professorship lasts for 35 years and cover three higher educational institutions: Kazan University, Moscow University and Higher Female Courses (Butlerov is among founder of said courses). He teaches many eminent scientists. Alexander Mikhailovich Butlerov dies in August 5, 1886 in the Butlerovka village near Kazan.


Kizilova Anna


Tags: Russian science Russian scientists    

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